April 9, 2020 Subject:
Comrades in Arms
You can make a satisfying study of the Confederate generals without particularly wishing you had met any of them. I feel I could have done without the mad holiness of Stonewall Jackson, the chilly pomp of Robert E. Lee, or the perverted brilliance of that diabolical liar Joseph E. Johnston. But just across the Mississippi, two young men - virtually opposites in character and talent - made fast friends in the pre-war years, and went on to glory and early death. They were Pat Cleburne and Thomas Hindman. And those two would surely have made the most rewarding company.
Cleburne was an Irish immigrant who had become a pharmacist in Arkansas, where he was given the warmest welcome, and never forgot his obligation to his state. Hindman was a fire-eating (i.e. pro-slavery) congressman, often provoking duels, where Cleburne would provide much-needed support. Arkansas had looked as though it would stay in the Union, but like Virginia, it resented Lincoln’s demand for a levy of troops, and threw in its lot with the south, our friends being two of the keenest volunteers for service.
Cleburne had no strong views about slavery, but he had noticed how slaves could be surprisingly protective towards their masters, and in response to the manpower shortage, proposed recruiting them into the army in exchange for their freedom. This offended the very soul of the Confederacy, and the suggestion was promptly hushed-up. Soon afterwards, Cleburne died a hero’s death in an unnecessary battle urged by the vainglorious John Bell Hood, promoted above his competence. Hindman served in many battles, once alongside Cleburne at Chickamauga, but was needed at home, where he used his influence to enforce the draft, earning him much hostility. We shall never know whether this was the cause of his assassination after the war, through the windows of his own house, where he was relaxing with his family. But nobody could forget his last minutes, bleeding to death as he addressed the crowd that was gathering in his garden, declaring that he forgave his unknown assassin.
The book comes in two parts by different authors, the second being poorly planned and narrated. Incomparably better is part one, by Charles E. Nash, who had known both men well, and provides vivid revelations of life in the small-town Arkansas of a vanished age.